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Horrible Tragedy

This is the worst, most impossible news I’ve had occasion to pass on. I frankly am having trouble believing it’s real. Paul and Helen were Mid-City residents until their home was flooded. ROX viewers will know from episode #90, Fat — the cute vegan couple with the pet pig. I wish it was a bad dream. They just stopped by our house Sunday night. I’m too scared and angry and sad to even say more at this point, but plenty more must be said and done.

First, excerpts from, then words from Robert Thompson that begin to express what I’m feeling but can’t articulate.

In the sixth murder New Orleans murder in less than a day, a woman was killed and her husband shot in their home this morning at about 5:30 a.m., said New Orleans police, who found the bleeding husband kneeling at the door of the couple’s home, holding their two-year-old son in his arms.

The toddler was not hurt; the husband, 35, underwent surgery at Elmwood/Charity Trauma Center, police said, where his son was also taken for examination. The woman, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The slayings, for which police offered no motive, capped off a wave of bloodshed severe even by New Orleans standards, and comes three days after Police Superintendent Warren Riley called a year-end news conference to put a positive spin on last year’s murder total of 161, which he called the lowest in 30 years. On a per capita basis, however, even the most optimistic projection of the post-flood city’s drastically shrunken population makes that murder rate an increase over previous years…

— At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, police were called to the Rampart Street killing. Neighbors of the couple later identified them as Helen Hill and Paul Gailiunas, a married couple who first came to the city more than a decade ago, and just moved back in August after a post-Katrina exile in South Carolina. The neighbors said Gailiunas was a doctor and Hill a freelance animator and filmmaker.

From: Robert Thompson
Date: January 4, 2007 1:33:48 PM CST
Subject: [FaubourgStJohn] Horrible Tragedy

News has just arrived of the murder and shooting of two of the most kind and generous people who this community has ever seen. I met HELEN HILL at our coffeehouse community space where she was teaching class for the New Orleans film collective. I’ve never met a more pleasant person. She now lies dead from being shot in her Marigny home. Dr. Paul Gailiunas was also shot while carrying their newborn child. The child is unharmed, but Paul is seriously injured, but likely to survive. Paul’s clinic saw many poor people, including some of my employees in an Esplanade clinic. He has received numerous Community Awards for his work with homeless and under privileged. His band, “The Troublemakers” entertained with a progressive political commentary, a testament to love and action against injustice.

These people didn’t deserve this! We don’t deserve this! When will this insanity stop? A lifetime of love snuffed for who knows what. I wish Paul and Helen had made the selfish decision and stayed in Canada or wherever…how could we waste their gift…and this is the fifth murder in the last 14 hours. I can’t believe this couple wants our bowed heads or silent prayers. What they would want is action. I can’t take this anymore. Does anyone else feel this level of outrage? Does anyone else feel we must get the guns off the streets, we must eliminate privileged and underclasses, we must stop drug exploitation, we must not tolerate racism, violence, hate…

I for one believe that unless we do something to make fundamental changes, we have pulled the trigger and fired the shots that have killed and destroyed these beautiful beings. I’m taking this one personally.

Robert Thompson

Published inFriendsNew Orleans


  1. TM TM

    This is indeed a horrible tragedy in a continum of violent tragedies in this city. This is way more than unacceptable – we must take steps to take back our city!
    My sympathies to you and the families of the victims.

  2. Bart, I am so sorry for you and your friends.

    I live probably within five blocks of the murder scene… have seen the Marigny becoming a hunting ground again. NOPD still treats the Marigny/Bywater as the did prior to the Flood: they do nothing.

    We need the DOJ to take over the department again and make changes in that ALL areas of the city deserve police protection.

  3. Bart, I am so sorry. I never stop watching the crime. Every morning when I arrive at work, I check and then mapquest the locations where someone was shot or found shot, fearfully. The Google Earth map compiled by NOLA Dishu and linked by Ashe Dambala at American Zombie speaks volumes. I don’t know what can be done or how to begin to do it, but your call to action should be heeded. I have been amazed by the collective intelligence of the NOLA bloggers. Perhaps the focus of the next gathering should be to brainstorm creative possible solutions to this problem. I don’t pretend to know how to translate creative ideas into actuality, but the levees do not matter if no one is safe in their own homes. Bless you and yours. You are all in my thoughts and prayers every day.

  4. Andrea Andrea

    I am absolutely shattered by this. I want to share a beautiful memory, instead of my outrage and sadness. A couple of years ago we all walked down to the Bayou for Super Sunday, but for some reason it was called off. I saw Helen, Paul and Francis off in the distance. Paul was dipping Francis through the air to make him laugh, and Helen was snapping pictures, laughing along with the both of them. I really stopped to take in the joy and happiness and positive energy that this little family had. Anyone who ever met them will know exactly what I am talking about. How could this be???

  5. […] Sympathies go out to Editor B who was close friends with Hill and her husband, Paul Gailiunas. « Bridge Incidents   […]

  6. a few of Paul and Helen’s friends are meeting right now in los angeles. I’ve known them since college and I can’ believe it.

    Most of us here knew her from calarts and last saw her a few months ago on her last visit here.

    oh god, I don’t know what to say. we’re going to put together a site where people can upload photos and memories of her. right now I’m crying too much

  7. dan b. dan b.


    The news report on made me sick. I can’t believe it. They as a couple appear to embody everything that I love about Nola. Like you and Christy. I haven’t felt this bad for the city since August 29th, 2005.

    Dan in Btown.

  8. Please send that link my way, so that I may post whatever pictures I have. I already put a few up on my blog today… I will be posting peoples thoughts, pictures and whatever beautiful things that are sent my way.

    I am just so sad. I cannot think of what was happening in those moments of attack. I can’t bear it to think of poor Paul and the baby. Happiness, happiness, that’s what they blew around like magic dust.


  9. Oh, man! What a heartbreaking story. I can’t stop thinking about that baby without his mother. I’ll be sending lots of love and light to you and Christie and to Paul and Francis and to everyone who is feeling the pain of this loss.

  10. My thoughts are with you, the little one who probably saw too much, and to their families and friends. I am completely shattered by this news. This has got to stop. We all must work together to make New Orleans a much safer place for all of us to live in. I am truly sorry for this terrible and tragic event.

  11. EEB EEB

    New Orleans has its unique problems, yes. But, as a whole, what we are
    seeing is a duplicate of the rest of the urban areas of our country.

  12. Sheila Sheila

    An old, dear friend just called to tell me the news. Paul and Helen were friends of mine in college. I can’t believe it, and the Times-Picayune story says so little.

    Over the years I lost touch with them but I always thought someday I’d be in New Orleans and look them up, or cross paths with them at a friend’s celebration. And now Helen … I can’t even type the word. When she was taking a poetry workshop she showed me some of her “poims” (hear the accent!), and I was surprised to find that I can still remember some of the lines. I remember the first film of hers I saw, to a tune that Paul had written. I can only pray that he is healing.

  13. a canadian friend a canadian friend

    For me, this proves there is no God. Nothing can save us but each other. We must try.

  14. Joanna Dubinsky Joanna Dubinsky

    Thank you, Bart, for writing this and giving a forum for all the people grieving around the world right now. Although I did not know Helen and Paul well, I am like the hundreds of people across the planet who felt incredibly fortunate just to cross their beautiful path (and I just got back from New Brunswick, CA., where I met people who knew them in Halifax). I distinctly remember thinking that their homecoming this past summer was a great gift to the city. Just knowing that they were returning to New Orleans gave me so much hope at a time when I had very little….I send my love, along with everyone on this blog and so many more, to Paul and Francis.

  15. Anonymous Anonymous

    I was drawn to this site after reading about this tragedy on msn. I along with many others and the Holy Spirit am grieved by this evil spirited tragedy. I have joined in prayer with all who loved this family for their divine healing and restoration.

    I would implore all who read this story to not give up on God and cling to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for understanding during this time of sorrow. For according to the word of God John 10:10, the thief does not come except to steal and to kill and to destroy. This was definitely an act of satan and not God. For God is love. May you all find peace and comfort in Him.

  16. […] I went to New Orleans last week for the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association. At the suggestion of former New Orleans resident Charles Barrilleaux (and inspired by sitting across from Harry Shearer on the plane ride to NOLA), I ventured away from the tourist-dense regions around the downtown hotels and the French quarter, although there are plenty of signs of loss and damage (and repair) still lingering there — but heading north and east out of the French quarter (roughly paralleling the river), you encounter neighborhoods (the start of the now internationally infamous 9th Ward) so thoroughly destroyed it is difficult to imagine them coming back (but people are trying). That near total devastation continues for block after block as you turn north towards the Lake out towards the University of New Orleans. Boarded up strip malls, churches, banks, gas stations, mud and dirt filling the car parks; parks and golf courses returning to their natural states; utility trucks doing the rounds, laying cable, just now getting services up; the fluorescent orange “TFW” (toxic flood water) spray-painted on house after house, still there 15 months later. The kicker is to hear about the murders there; like, how much more can a city take? Everyone should see it, and understand that it is far from over for so many people down there… […]

  17. susanna fuller susanna fuller

    When Paul and Helen were handing out postcards with their new address in New Orleans, before they left Halifax, I said to them, ” you must find my brother down there,” and gave them his address. Michael and Sarah became their good friends, and I know that Paul and Helen are part of what made New Orleans a magical place for them. Paul and Helen were some of the few people who would call someone simply based on a referral. I keep finding myself wondering why it is that the good things, sometimes the best things in the world are taken away. Helen was one of those best things. How I wish life were a chose your own adventure novel, and we could rewind a week or so, and start again. Whisper into Helen’s ear, not to open the door. But we don’t and we can’t. Perhaps her goodness will help New Orleans turn a corner. While I am sad for the world and sad for all of Helen’s friends, I am saddest for Paul and Francis Pop, with whom she found the truest love, most of us will never know. Helen was someone who made everything sparkle and seem good, even when all signs were to the contrary. I think this is what drew her to New Orleans, its brilliant colours, quirkyness, but underlying trouble and violence. In our own small ways, we must carry this on – the goodness, the fun and the ability to make things a little bit better.

  18. Jill Humelstein Jill Humelstein

    It’s hard to collect my thoughts: I was so excited when I discovered your website via youtube–I’m doing research on New Orleans post-Katina for a novel I’m writing–and I saw you mention my favorite writer, Thomas Bernhard, and then I read of Helen and I was crushed. All in a minute.

    So. My heart breaks for this woman I never knew. I will have to do something for her. I don’t know what yet. I’m still in the stage where I fell in love with her through the videos and I want her to be alive.

    But you’re doing a great job in documenting New Orleans. Please keep it up.

  19. […] who happen to see the wrong thing, at the wrong time are still being killed in our streets, like Helen Hill. Crime cameras could help alleviate this senseless loss of life and help the NOPD get some solid […]

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